|Originally Italy, today mainly southern Europe, maximum extent world-wide intermittent (most of the Americas. Official languages of half the countries in Africa and parts of Oceania).|
Approximate distribution of languages in Iron Age Italy during the sixth century BC. (Note: many of these – especially Etruscan and Raetian, which are classified as Tyrsenian languages, and Greek – are not Italic.)
The Italic languages are a subfamily of the Indo-European language family, originally spoken by Italic peoples. They include Latin and its descendants (the Romance languages) as well as a number of extinct languages of the Italian Peninsula, including Umbrian, Oscan, Faliscan and South Picene.
With over 800 million native speakers, the Italic languages constitute the second most widely spoken branch of the Indo-European family, after the Indo-Iranian languages.
In the past, various definitions of "Italic" have prevailed. This article uses the classification presented by the Linguist List: Italic includes the Latin subgroup (Latin and the Romance languages) as well as the ancient Italic languages (Faliscan, Osco-Umbrian and two unclassified Italic languages, Aequian and Vestinian). Venetic (the language of the ancient Veneti), as revealed by its inscriptions, shared some similarities with the Italic languages and is sometimes classified as Italic. However, since it also shares similarities with other Western Indo-European branches (particularly Celtic languages and Germanic languages), some linguists prefer to consider it an independent Indo-European language.
In the extreme view, Italic did not exist, but the different groups descended directly from Indo-European and converged because of geographic contiguity. This view stems in part from the difficulty in identifying a common Italic homeland in prehistory.
In the intermediate view, the Italic languages are one of the ten or eleven major subgroups of the Indo-European language family and might therefore have had an ancestor, Common Italic or Proto-Italic, from which its daughter languages descend. Moreover, there are similarities between major groups, although how these similarities are to be interpreted is one of the major debatable issues in the historical linguistics of Indo-European. The linguist Calvert Watkins went so far as to suggest, among ten major groups, a four-way division of East, West, North and South Indo-European. These he considered "dialectical divisions within Proto-Indo-European which go back to a period long before the speakers arrived in their historical areas of attestation." This is not to be considered a nodular grouping; in other words, there was not necessarily any common west Indo-European serving as a node from which the subgroups branched, but rather a hypothesized similarity between the dialects of Proto-Indo-European which developed into the recognized families.